A Mama Riffs on Testing

Fawn Johnson, editor over at the Education Insiders Blog of the National Journal.com, posed several questions to us about standardaized testing, and she approached them not just as an education writer, but also as a mother. Here’s my response to her which is cross-posted at NationalJournal.com/Education Insiders.

I’m going to put on my other “expert” hat—that of parent—for this one.  My husband and I have raised 11 children, all of whom went through public school and various standardized testing programs. As a parent, I found the information from my children’s standardized tests to be of very little practical use to me, them, or their teachers. For one, these tests are designed to sort large groups of students from one another, not to analyze the academic ability or growth of an individual student.

I don’t think your doctor’s visit analogy is entirely appropriate for understanding what standardized tests do (or don’t) tell us about our children or their schools. There is value in a regular check-up, but would you trust the diagnosis of a doctor who tried to use a tape measure to check your blood count?

The state tests said our son was brilliant in math; yet, we and his teachers know he struggles to this day to understand math and has spent years trying to complete his college degree because he can’t get past college algebra.  The data we really needed to help him with math wasn’t in the standardized test results.

More important for us, how could we trust the results of state testing when we knew the same state has been consistently and deliberately forcing our children’s schools to do more with fewer resources and less experienced teachers than the schools serving our more affluent neighbors?

Tests, like other forms of assessment, are supposed to determine whether and how well students learned what was actually taught. That’s why the tests should proceed logically and purposefully from the teaching of the curriculum. It is cruel, wasteful, and pedagogically unsound to create the tests—then the curriculum. Doing so gets us exactly what your child describes: teaching driven by and to the test, not by and to the learning needs of each child.

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